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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Fighting corruption will take more than a fruit basket ban

A tisket, a tasket fighting corruption with fruit baskets

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran announced

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran announced "a zero-tolerance policy" for county employees involved with procurement or contracting procedures accepting gifts of any kind from county vendors. Photo Credit: iStock

It’s going to take more than a fruit basket ban to clean up contract improprieties in Nassau — considering that the county already had a limit on vendor gifts worth more than $75 before County Executive Laura Curran’s executive order Monday banning them.

Will the gift ban stop favoritism?

Will it halt Nassau’s propensity for passing over the lowest bidder for contracts?

What about campaign contributions from vendors? No one said boo about that one during Monday’s news conference.

Would a gift ban have stopped former State Sen. Dean Skelos — whose conviction on federal corruption charges was reversed — from pushing a county contract that also benefited his son, Adam?

A $75 limit on gifts didn’t stop former County Executive Edward Mangano from accepting gifts of far greater value — including wood flooring, a massage chair and a no-show job for his spouse — from former restaurateur Harendra Singh.

Mangano — who is scheduled to go on trial, along with his spouse, Linda, and former Oyster Bay Supervisor John Venditto March 12 — has pleaded not guilty to federal charges of conspiracy, bribery and wire fraud.

The county’s old gift limit also didn’t stop former Deputy County Executive Rob Walker from accepting — and later, returning — $5,000 in cash from a vendor in 2014. Walker last week pleaded not guilty to charges of obstructing justice and lying to Federal Bureau of Investigation agents.

There was no way of determining on Monday whether Nassau had punished employees for violating the $75 limit; and, during a news conference announcing Nassau’s new “zero tolerance” policy, no mention was made of the consequences of violating the ban.

In addition to the gift ban, Curran announced changes in the contract review process. Rather than all contracts going through a single deputy county executive, more administrators would be given authority to review and execute contracts.

The idea, Curran spokesman Michael Martino said later, is to blunt the potential of favoritism, or other contracting shenanigans, by opening up the contracting process — a move also made by former County Executive Thomas Suozzi during his first term in office.

After a scandal, Suozzi put into place a signoff review process — which was then streamlined by the Mangano administration because it was considered to be too slow.

Curran, meanwhile, said she has put other measures into place to combat patronage.

Last week, federal authorities made clear that an investigation into Nassau’s former contracting processes is continuing.

The measures Curran announced on Monday are a start.

But it will take a lot more than a ban on fruit baskets to starve the beast of corruption.

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